ByJess O'Kane, writer at
Big in Japan
Jess O'Kane

Sweet mother Mary...there are literally not enough superlatives to describe how frightening the new teaser for American Horror Story: Freak Show is.

The 10-second clip features an unidentified man in clown get-up doing strange things with his face and showing off a set of gnashers that would make a shark feel upstaged.

But then, it's no wonder that showrunner Ryan Murphy is appealing to the common fear of clowns - or Coulrophobia. It's one of the most prevalent phobias in the Western world, so much so that there are websites dedicated to it.

But why are we so utterly terrified of these supposedly cheery children's entertainers?

You're Not The First

Fear of clowns has been noted for as long as the supposed jesters have existed - which is a pretty long time. Clowns made Pharaohs laugh in 2500 BCE, while the Native Americans had clown figures whose job was to interrupt serious rituals with funny antics.

Lots of clowns...the only thing worse than a clown.
Lots of clowns...the only thing worse than a clown.

One famous case of Coulrophobia happened in 2006, when the organisers of British music event Bestival had to remove a request for attendees to come dressed as clowns after people complained that they would be unable to attend if it happened.

It's Not Irrational!

While you might argue that clowns are usually harmless, public perception of them as evil and terrifying goes back a long way.

Joseph Grimaldi
Joseph Grimaldi

Mostly, it stems from everyone's favourite misery-peddler Charles Dickens, who was charged with editing the posthumous memoirs of famous clown Grimaldi.

Dickens exaggerated Grimaldi's already grim life (his wife died in childbirth, his son drowned) to the point where the image of the tragic clown became commonplace.

Clowns Make Great Villains

The idea of the murderous, villain clown was popularised after John Wayne Gacy was caught in 1980. Gacy was a clown by the name of Pogo who murdered over 35 young men in the Chicago area over a ten year period.

John Wayne Gacy as Pogo The Clown
John Wayne Gacy as Pogo The Clown

Inspired by Gacy's terrifying image, the film Poltergeist (1982) was the first to feature a murdering clown. Stephen King's It, Killjoy, The Simpsons and The Cabin In The Woods followed suit.

Fast forward to 2014, and we're still terrified of men with painted smiles.

The Joker
The Joker

In other words, American Horror Story: Freak Show will be hitting us right in the scary bone.

Catch it October 8.


Are you frightened of clowns?

(Source: Smithsonian Mag/Comic Book)


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